Thursday 17 November 2022

Parliamentary NIMBYs in action: report on a depressing debate

Parliament held a 30-minute debate about housing targets and the planning system moved by Gordon Henderson, MP for Sittingbourne & Sheppey. It will come as no surprise to find that Henderson’s argument was in support of more housing and better planning but rather the opposite:
This is not the first time I have raised the subject of overdevelopment in my constituency. In the last 12 years, I have done so on a number of occasions, so I will not repeat what I have said before, except to emphasise the problems that excessive housebuilding has caused my constituents.
Henderson goes on to set out the complete set of NIMBY objections to new housing, you know those familiar lines about how people can’t get a GP appointment, the roads are congested and there aren’t enough school places. All because, we’re told, of the “top down target” imposed on Swale District Council (wherein sits Henderson’s constituency) by the government. Swale Council had, it seems, proposed new housing provision amounting to 776 homes a year for the plan period only to be told by the Planning Inspectorate that this wasn’t enough and they’d need to find land for 1,048 new homes.

Having argued that the problem is “overdevelopment”, Henderson then - in gleeful irony - observes that developers haven’t managed to meet that 776 target any time in the last ten years. Any overdevelopment, it seems, is actually underdevelopment.

At this point another MP, Dan Poulter pops up with a helpful interjection, one that every local councillor will have heard:
Will he join me in urging the Minister to consider that there should be a right of appeal for local communities against inappropriate housing applications? There is a right for the developer; there is not currently a right for communities.
We are now in the deepest heart of NIMBYland with MPs proposing ideas that, given even a cursory examination, are simply dreadful. A community right of appeal would simply result in every second planning permission getting clogged up in a long-winded and probably under-resourced appeal system. Nothing would ever get built (not that much is being built at the moment).

The debate continues, Henderson rightly points out the lack of planning resources in local councils and the assorted QUANGOs and agencies that have planning duties. But the main reason for this lack of resources is that trained and qualified planners spend too many of their days administering the development control system rather than any actual planning. Since England has a discretionary system for planning (every development requires a specific permission granted at the whim of the local planning authority) each and every development must be examined by a planner.

One of the ways in which we could make the system work better would be to move to a rules-based approach. Once the local planning authority (LPA) has agreed its local plan and made allocations according to perceived local needs, there should be no further need for planning officer involvement beyond the enforcement of the rules agreed in the plan. Yet MPs like Dan Poulter opposed this idea because it takes away from politicians the power to march local objectors up the hill in opposition to a development already set out in the LPA’s local plan. This, not good accountable local government, is what the NIMBY-inclined MPs mean by ‘community involvement in planning’.

The debate also witnessed the strange discussion of GPs and whether there are enough of them (there probably aren’t). Of course, the local health system is a consultee in the planning system and it is perfectly possible for the NHS to indicate that their provision cannot cope with increasing numbers as a result of new housing. And this would be a material planning consideration - grounds for the LPA refusing permission. In 24 years as a councillor I never saw this happen and I have not heard of it happening elsewhere. Moreover, the most likely response to the issue, just as with a lack of school places, has been to use planning gain (s106 now Community Infrastructure Levy) to provide the funding for new provision.

We also witnessed the usual arguments from MPs - Labour and Conservative - representing suburban areas, about brownfield sites being prioritised over greenfield (or Green Belt) sites. Followed by Kelly Tolhurst, MP for Rochester arguing that a major brownfield site in her constituency should not be redeveloped. This is the madness of our system. All of these reasons - excuses really - for not building houses are wheeled out by campaign groups and rolled along by MPs who seem to have only a passing knowledge of just what a colossal mess we are in with planning and housing. But the winning observation comes in an intervention from Taiwo Owatemi, MP for Coventry NW, a glorious exposition of NIMBY:
We would all like the dream of home ownership to be a reality. In my constituency, one of the biggest concerns of residents is that, because the local authority is trying to meet the housing target that has been put on them, they are losing their green spaces, such as Coundon Wedge. This is having a considerable impact on the wellbeing of so many people who use green spaces like that. It would be great to hear whether the Minister would meet with me to look at Coventry’s figures, because currently the Office for National Statistics projections are completely off the mark.
We want houses, just not here. Until government closes down this argument, we will not build the homes we need, young people will sit frustrated in Mum’s basement or a crowded HMO, and our economy and environment will suffer.

Sunday 13 November 2022

Beloved over all: how conservatism isn't like other politics

God gave all men all earth to love,
But since our hearts are small,
Ordained for each one spot should prove Belovèd over all;
That, as He watched Creation’s birth,
So we, in godlike mood,
May of our love create our earth
And see that it is good.
Kipling knew when he wrote these words, that the world is a big place. Too big for us to truly love, too much of it is too far away, too foreign, just not home. It isn't that we don't care for people in Hue or Houston but that we care so much more about home, about family and about the spot we love the most.

When I set out recently to explore modern conservatism the result was confused - you can read the unfinished article here. It wasn't that I'd failed to find important things to say about how modern conservatism lost its way but rather that, like many modern conservatives, I'd lost the essence of what we believe, an essence captured in Kipling's words.

I'd begun with a reminder that conservatism isn't an ideology - quoting American conservative writer Andrew Sullivan:
"Conservatism, if it means anything, is a resistance to ideology and the world of ideas ideology represents, whether that ideology is a function of the left or the right"
But to appreciate what Sullivan is saying, I needed some inspiration, something that led me back to those words Kipling wrote about the Sussex he loved. And three things happened - the Ukrainians liberated Kherson, the Hookland email arrived and I went to the theatre. After this I remembered that conservatism is about our relationship with place, that this relationship is transcendent, and that it isn't only physical but emotional, it is the feeling of home.

You'll have seen the images of Kherson's liberation, the cheers and smiles, the literal relief on people's faces. One image sticks in my mind. It is the image of the middle aged woman lifting up a piece of paving under which she'd buried an Ukrainian flag. This woman was uncovering the symbol of nation that had been taken from her by invaders, she was reminding us that picture of Ukraine, capturing its sky and corn but also more than that, pride in a place forged in hiding and adversity.

Hookland is a real place. Not real in the sense that you can find its towns, hills and pubs in the AA Book of the Road, but real in the sense that the people who write about its ghosts, sea hags, witches and wise policemen reflect the place that birthed that imagined county - England. In the latest newsletter we are presented with an observation from Emily Banting, witch (taken, we're informed, from her postal correspondence course in witchery):
"When the witch walks a corpse road or lych way, she does it in communion with those that travelled before. A movement in which the intimate exchange of thoughts and feelings is possible. A travelling not of trespass, but shared journey. We must always have the manners to know that you do not poke those walking beside you."
Here we encounter transcendence, the idea that our relationship with home isn't just about now or even tomorrow, that relationship is also about those Kipling evoked in his charm:
Take of English earth as much
As either hand may rightly clutch.
In the taking of it breathe
Prayer for all who lie beneath.
Not the great nor well-bespoke,
But the mere uncounted folk
Of whose life and death is none
Report or lamentation.
Our idea of place and our identification with home is founded on the things that those mere uncounted folk did - the walls they built, the fields they tilled, the woods they planted and a thousand other things that shaped our environment, the work that made it possible for you to look out and say "wow, I love this place".

These thoughts were in my mind as I travelled to Leeds Grand Theatre to see "Fisherman's Friends, The Musical". Based on the true story of the Port Isaac fisherman's choir and the film that story inspired, this musical tells of that choir and why songs and shanties matter. The part when Jago dies drew together the thoughts in my head, the idea of why place matters and how that mattering is transcendent, about hundreds of years of history and tradition.

If we want to understand 'true conservatism' we can't start with the actions of government or the meanderings of philosophers. We should, to grasp conservatism's permanence, sit and look out at the place our small heart loves most.

Giovanni Guareschi described the little world of Don Camillo and Peppone in Italy's Po valley. Guareschi's creations came to life far beyond Lombardy because we all instantly understood when he wrote:
" the Little World between the river and the mountains, many things can happen that cannot happen anywhere else. Here, the deep, eternal breathing of the river freshens the air, for both the living and the dead, and even the dogs have souls."
Conservatism isn't about politics in the way that liberals and socialists think about politics. We don't have a prescription for the perfect society written down by a prophet in the 18th or 19th century. Nor are we the shouty, ignorant rant of nationalism where love of place is corrupted to "we are better than them".

Conservatives know that Kipling was right about our small hearts and that we are mere stewards of the place we love. But, just because we love our home the most doesn't mean we cannot or should not love all the world or that we should dismiss those for whom somewhere else is belovèd over all.

Conservatism is about us making the places we all love (and even the seemingly ugliest of places is loved by someone) a little bit better, about us being a little part of the legion of barely remembered people who loved the place too. The people whose wisdom the witch Emily Banting knows can help us make the right choices today. And when something breaks in our place we won't sit in despair but will dig up the flag, wave it proudly and set to fixing the broken. Not as an act of jingo but just because we love that place.


Conservatism, if it means anything, is a resistance to ideology and the world of ideas ideology represents, whether that ideology is a function of the left or the right

So wrote American conservative writer, Andrew Sullivan. I quoted this in one of the first articles I wrote about conservatism and have returned frequently to the theme that being a conservative isn't really an ideological position but rather a sort of fructified anti-ideology, doubt as an action plan.

Conservatism is ill-defined - it's felt rather than analysed, emotional rather than intellectual. Unlike the left there is no ur-text, no 'Capital' that provides a bedrock of religious certainty to ideological discussion. We have a set of populist aphorisms - 'hand up not a hand out', 'people who do the right things', 'choice and opportunity' - but these don't help except as a set of clues to what we believe. 

Every place has people who are, actively and passively, conservative. These are the people who look out of their front window and see a world where they can make a little difference but, somewhat contrarily, also want nothing to change about that view out front. It is this clash that sits at the heart of conservatism's confusion - we want a better place out there but we also want it to stay unchanged and unchanging.

Benjamin Disraeli, more than any other person the father of British conservatism (and Conservatism but we will get to that later), set out that the purpose of his party was to see the betterment of conditions for the working man. By conditions Disraeli didn't just mean those workers' rights the socialists always speak of but a broader sense of betterment. And, in seeking to improve the health, wealth and happiness of working men, Disraeli realised that Britain being healthier, wealthier and happier as a nation would serve to make, if done right, the lives of those working men better. So we got Empire, a wider franchise, a safer workplace and parks.

From the 1850s up to the 1960s, British conservatism steered its path between the preservation of society's institutions and the betterment of people's lives. Mostly these two missions didn't conflict since preserving institutions like marriage, parish and professions sat well along side the dynamism and creativity of industry. By the 1960s, however, conservatism was struggling to provide an economic rationale for preserving either the great industries or the carefully regulated City of London that had financed Empire but failed to finance the rejuventation of commerce and industry. Worse the social revolution brought about by the pill and the growing up of the post-war baby boomers seemed to place conservatism as the enemy of betterment not as its champion - we entered a liberal age.

Conservatives gave the post-war working man better housing, low crime, high employment and a route to personal betterment via grammar schools and technical colleges. But the party of institution and tradition crashed into gay love, abortion, mini skirts and middle class women who wanted a good job. And, after a brief moment of panic, the Conservative Party gave the good job - its leader - to a middle class woman. The problem was that, in economic terms, Margaret Thatcher wasn't a conservative and the party had let a liberal imp into the house.

It may be an apocryphal story but the tale of Margaret Thatcher slamming a copy of Hayek's "Road to Serfdom" on the cabinet table and saying "this is what we believe" represented a huge change in the outlook of British conservatism. The change is often presented as a move away from  noblesse oblige where the Conservative Party switched from a dirigiste, managerialist outlook to embrace classical liberalism with all 
its creative destruction. The truth is that Thatcher's enthusiasm for Hayek was less about economics than it was about the need to confront socialism and communism.

“The choice facing the nation is between two totally different ways of life. And what a prize we have to fight for: no less than the chance to banish from our land the dark, divisive clouds of Marxist socialism and bring together men and women from all walks of life who share a belief in freedom.”

By placing opposition to socialism are the centre of the party's mission Thatcher probably did the right thing - socialism was, and still is, an existential threat to Britain's most important institutions - monarchy, church, marriage, property rights. This is what Thatcher meant by sharing a belief in freedom and is why her policies and actions sit within the conservative tradition. Our problem is that the secular canonisation (and demonisation) of Thatcher largely ignored her traditionalist conservatism choosing to focus on the idea that she championed unfettered free markets - something that is hard to square with the actual Thatcher legacy.

Since Thatcher's removal (something that would become a painful trend in British conservatism) the Conservative Party has struggled to find a comfortable place. A generation of enthusiastic free marketers clashed with careerists and latterly people who see the mission as one about society rather than economy. And against this background sits the debate about Europe. Indeed, whereas Thatcher's generation saw the enemy as socialism, conservatism in 21st century Britain increasingly sees itself as defined by being outside the European Union, by Brexit.

The Brexit referendum came about, at least in part, because of a divide within the right of British politics between those who wanted closer engagement with European countries and those who saw the European project as a threat (just as Thatcher saw socialism as a threat) to important British institutions. The importance of sovereignty (that our institutions (parliament and the courts) cannot be overruled by non-British institutions) pushed aside the main part of Disraeli's original mission, making the lives of ordinary families better. The economic impact of Brexit is a matter for debate (and an increasingly Laputian debate it is too) but the 2019 general election where what some called a 'new coalition' emerged based on an electorate that was 'economically left and socially conservative' - "fund the NHS, hang the paedos" as one wag put it.

Tuesday 25 October 2022

Without planning reform, building beautifully is just another barrier to development


This is the fourth in a series of posts responding to questions and issues raised at my recent Battle of Ideas debate about the housing crisis. These posts will touch on how planning committees work (and whether they are political), why we need council housing, but it won’t solve the housing crisis and the old chestnuts of empty homes, brownfield sites and food supply. I’ll also try to set out why beauty is a good idea but looking good doesn’t stop NIMBYs and how urban sprawl is what people want.

“We do not see beauty as a cost, to be negotiated away once planning permission has been obtained. It is the benchmark that all new developments should meet. It includes everything that promotes a healthy and happy life, everything that makes a collection of buildings into a place, everything that turns anywhere into somewhere, and nowhere into home. So understood beauty should be an essential condition for the grant of planning permission”

These are the opening words of ‘Living with Beauty’, the 2020 final report of the Building Better, Building Beautiful Commission chaired by the later Roger Scruton. And they have become something of a mantra for those who see the failure to meet housing need as a failure of will rather than a systemic problem. If only, we are told, the houses, shops and offices we build were more beautiful there would be fewer objections and the planning system, newly empowered by demanding beauty, would deliver the millions of homes we need.

It is hard to argue against beauty, of course we want the homes for future generations to echo the best in residential architecture down the ages. We want these buildings to use the best materials and to respect the topography of England. The problem is that a few seconds into any discussion about beauty in housing people start talking about Bath, Belgravia, Barcelona or Paris, usually accompanied by disparaging comments about American suburbia and cars. We’re told that beauty is contained in a thing called ‘gentle density’ as its proponents show pictures of gorgeously fenestrated mansion blocks in Kensington or reimagined suburbia free from such trashy and ugly things as private gardens and garages.

I was brought up in suburbia. I’d say I was biased when I say I love suburbs but, truth be told, a lot of people who grew up in suburbia also absorbed the popularised aesthetic that such places are naff, dull places filled with dull people living dull lives. The ‘Living with Beauty’ report is filled with hints, little asides about the poor quality of homes built by the big house-building companies and sly references to how cars spoil everything. The problem for our advocates of beauty is that not only do those terrible ugly homes built by Persimmon or Redrow sell but also the opponents of new homes don’t give a fig about what they look like, they don’t want them built.

The Duchy of Cornwall, previously under the stewardship of our new King now led by his son and heir, has proposals for a major urban extension at Faversham in Kent.

In accordance with the Swale Local Plan Review 2021 allocation, and guided by the local community through public engagement workshops and consultation events, the Duchy is drafting plans to deliver a high quality, sustainable, landscape-led, mixed use community that will become a thriving new urban extension to the town. In broad terms this aspiration can be summarised as a net zero carbon development of around 2,500 homes and 2,500 jobs across a range of commercial and community uses, with approximately one third of the site designated as high quality green space with at least 10% biodiversity net gains.

Drawing on well-regarded developments by the Duchy at Poundbury and Nansledan, the proposals are for a new community that is walkable, mixed use, served by good local transport and designed to reflect the historic vernacular of Faversham. It ticks, except on density, all the boxes that the advocates of beauty advocate. And local NIMBYs are going to fight it tooth and nail.

“While I recognise the need for new homes in and around Faversham I am extremely concerned at the scale of development. The council is proposing an unforgivable scale of development” (Helen Whateley the local MP)

"This isn't simply adding a couple of housing estates; this will change the nature of Faversham…It's hugely significant. It is the largest expansion of the town since the Victorian era.” (Cllr John Irwin, Faversham Town Council)

“The farmland is so rich in biodiversity and this scheme will destroy habitats. So many protected species will be lost - there are bats, lizards, butterflies and wild orchids. It's so sad. I have concerns about losing such good farmland. In the current climate, we need food self-security. Farmland should be kept in operation at all costs.” (local resident, Mark Sewell)

The striking thing about this opposition is that there is no discussion of beauty. The Duchy may have filled the proposals with the language of responsible development, community and environment and the design standards may be high, but the opposition is to the fact of the housing not what it looks like or who will live there.

In my 24 years as a local councillor, the issue of what new housing looked like was seldom a reason to oppose that housing. Residents opposed housing because they thought it would lead to crowded roads, schools and doctors, that it would change the character of the community, and that something important (flowers, animals, heritage) would be harmed by new homes. The ‘Living with Beauty’ report stresses, and this emphasis is present in the Policy Exchange work on housing and planning, that the resolution is to move planning upstream:

Local councils need radically and profoundly to re-invent the ambition, depth and breadth with which they engage with neighbourhoods as they consult on their local plans. More democracy should take place at the local plan phase, expanding from the current focus on consultation in the development control process to one of co-design.

The abandoned white paper on planning reflected these ideas seeking to shift local consultation away from responding to individual applications by having more community consultation at the local plan stage. The problem with both Policy Exchange and the Scruton Commission is that they don’t make this leap of logic and want to retain the existing process for planning applications. And therefore, nothing changes because community consultation never reaches beyond the activist and the objective of those activists is not to get a balance of beautiful new development that will meet community needs but to stop any new development.

If we add a requirement to ask for beauty to the mix of planning requirements, all we do is provide the NIMBYs – the opponents of development – with another barricade to help them prevent new homes getting built, another hurdle for developers and especially smaller developers to clear, and another set of ugly words in turgid policy documents intended to define ‘beauty’ in planning terms.

Like most people I’m with Robert Heinlein when he wrote that “…by cultivating the beautiful we scatter the seeds of heavenly flowers…” but I also appreciate that beauty is diverse. The slate roofs of Parkside Terrace in Cullingworth or the half-mile of semi-detached homes that run up Village Way from St Edmund’s Catholic Church in Beckenham are beautiful parts of our built heritage as much as are those mansion blocks on Maida Vale or the Royal Crescent in Bath. And the beauty of a place is as much defined by the people of that place as it is by whether the architects’ profession think it a good aesthetic.

The Knight Foundation, a US charitable organisation that supports research on local communities, media and neighbourhood, did a report entitled “Soul of the Community” which asked individuals and community organisations about what made for a successful place. Over 43,000 responses later the researchers were able to observe that:

We not only found out that resident attachment was related to solid economic outcomes for places, but that the things that most drove people to love where they live were not the local economy or even their personal civic engagement in the place (as one might expect), but the “softer sides” of place.

Yes, objective beauty matters but not as much as whether the people think it is beautiful. When people moved out of Glasgow’s decaying tenements into new gentle density in places like Easterhouse, it was exciting and change-making. It didn’t stay that way. Too often broken communities have the same attitude to beauty as the Vogons:

“They brought forth scintillating jewelled scuttling crabs, which the Vogons ate, smashing their shells with iron mallets; tall aspiring trees of breathtaking slenderness and colour which the Vogons cut down and burnt the crab meat with; elegant gazelle-like creatures with silky coats and dewy eyes which the Vogons would catch and sit on. They were no use as transport because their backs would snap instantly, but the Vogons sat on them anyway.”

The argument that we should build more beautiful places is a good one but, sadly, it doesn’t allow us to escape from the reality of planning and housing in England – a system of permits that, at best, provides a slow and inefficient development process and more commonly simply prevents any development at all. If we want communities engaged, we need to start by telling them that their engagement is not a means to stop housing but a way of securing the fullest benefit for the place from much-needed development.

In Cullingworth I stood as the local councillor in front of one hundred or so residents crammed into the old village hall and told them that we couldn’t stop the new housing development so instead we were going to get the biggest benefit possible for the village from those new houses. Not everyone agreed (including the Parish Council) but the houses were built, and we have a great new village hall, café, and pre-school. I call that winning.

Friday 21 October 2022

We have too few empty homes (we need ten times more than we have right now)

This is the third in a series of posts responding to questions and issues raised at my recent Battle of Ideas debate about the housing crisis. These posts will touch on how planning committees work (and whether they are political), why we need council housing, but it won’t solve the housing crisis and the old chestnuts of empty homes, brownfield sites and food supply. I’ll also try to set out why beauty is a good idea but looking good doesn’t stop NIMBYs and how urban sprawl is what people want.

Conservative Home’s Harry Phibbs writes about empty council houses pointing out that there are currently 30,600 long term empty council homes. Phibbs wants councils to sell these homes (estimating they are worth £3.8 billion) but doesn’t ask why the homes are, in the jargon, long-term voids. Sloppy housing management and the fact that some properties are hard to let will be factors here but the most common reason for long term voids in social housing is redevelopment. Put simply, if a council decides to redevelop an estate (an example is the Carpenters Estate in Stratford) normal housing management practice is not to relet homes that come vacant – would be crazy to let a home and then decant the new tenant a few months later. And those thirty thousand empty council houses represent less that 2% of the council housing stock.

It is a common argument – there’s even a far-left campaign group, Action on Empty Homes – that there are lots of homes sitting empty and unused that could be used to solve the housing crisis. That campaign group says there are 238,000 homes that have been empty for six month or longer (and then adds in every other currently empty home, second homes and holiday lets, to magic up a figure of one million). Even if we accept all of this, there aren’t enough empty homes to fix the crisis and, as we see from the council houses, it is impossible to eliminate voids even when your regulator treats void levels as a key performance indicator.

Britain has very low levels of empty property – the Netherlands, for example, has as many empty homes as England despite having a population a third the size. And, as Centre for Cities has observed, empty properties are good for housing affordability and the smooth operation of housing markets. Tom Forth who runs Datacities, set out why more voids are good for housing affordability:

When people in England get on a bus or a train, they are happy to see a seat empty.

When people in England go to the shop to buy milk, they are happy to see an unsold bottle rather than an empty shelf.

But when it comes to homes, many people in England think about things differently. Empty homes, they say, are a bad thing, to be reduced by policy, and to be filled before any new homes should be permitted.

Largely because of this, England has the lowest rate of empty homes in the developed world

So, not only are there not remotely enough empty homes to sort out the housing crisis, trying to use them as an excuse for not building more new homes is entirely the wrong approach. Forth points out that planners in Greater Paris want the void rate for all homes to be 8% or higher because they believe this will help maintain housing affordability and assist the housing market. By contrast the all-housing void rate in Greater London is 0.7%.

All of this points to a central issue in urban development - Barcelona’s left-wing mayor has failed to deliver on housing affordability preferring to blame tourism and AirBnB while the more conservative areas surrounding the city resist new development. The same is true for London, San Francisco, Auckland, and Sydney – indeed for a hundred other cities across the globe where an insistence on urban containment and growth limits results in housing problems.

Attacks on AirBnB and holiday lets now feature strongly in the campaigns of groups like Action on Empty Homes. We’ve seen tourist hotspots like Whitby and St Ives adopt planning policies designed to prevent new housing being sold for holiday lets or second homes, and cities like York are considering how to reduce what they see as a problem with AirBnb.

The problem is that these policies are all designed to avoid confronting the real problem – there aren’t enough houses. When the LSE looked at the St Ives second home ban, they found that the impact of the ban was to reduce the price of new build property, so developers simply opted to develop elsewhere. Housing affordability worsened – when the St Ives ban came in prices were already 14 times median earnings for Cornwall, they are now pushing 20 times those earnings.

Second homes and tourist rentals inevitably compete with general needs housing, as does commercial, retail, and social development. But simply banning some of these developments doesn’t, as the experience of St Ives shows, will make the problem worse. The Barcelona experience – rent controls, eviction bans, fines, and urban containment – demonstrates how not to resolve the problem. As one local agent put it:

“I see a very worrying trend…the slow, but constant movement of properties away from the rental market to the sale market. At the same time, we see a massive reduction in the purchase of new homes by small buy-to-let investors. All together this is causing the opposite of what we need to happen: A reduction in the number of homes for rent…”

Barcelona’s mayor is now threatening to seize empty homes (like London, the Catalan capital has very few of these) rather than accelerate to the development of new homes. None of these actions will resolve the problem and the mayor’s ambitious social housing plans have so far seen just one block developed – indeed opposition to this development (locals saw it as gentrification) means the city has downgraded future plans.

Housing supply is the problem not how much of the housing stock is vacant at any one time. The comparison of London, Barcelona and Paris demonstrates that you can have pro-housing policies and that higher void rates – more empty homes – are an important part of such policies. After all, if the landlords are chasing tenants, chances are the offer will be better and cheaper, than if tenants are chasing landlords!